There’s a bleak hilarity to watching academic bloggers defend their activities to colleagues, especially in the medium of semi-academic printed prose.
Two years ago, John Sides introduced blogging to the readers of Political Science and Politics. He was restrained and reassuring — to the extent that’s possible when you have a subheading “Do I really want to be a Nazi scumbag moron?”:
blogging is not without its challenges, particularly
in terms of the time and energy needed to maintain a site. But
blogging can also have its benefits by not only helping polit-
ical science reach a broader audience, but also aiding individ-
ual scholars’ research, teaching, and service goals.
Now comes a response from Robin Farley of Lawyers, guns and money. He summarizes:
Sides treats blogging (and what I tend to think of as associated “public intellectual” activities) as adjunct to a successful political science career. I, on the other hand, think that we should take seriously the possibility that these activities should become the main course of a successful career in political science (and other fields)
The comments to Farley’s post are, as you’d expect, more interesting and persuasive than anything you’d find in a journal:
that’s what blogging is good for: core arguments. Peer-reviewed journals are better for extensive and careful analysis of those arguments. It’s fine to have different standards, since they serve fundamentally different purposes. That doesn’t mean that blogging doesn’t have academic value, however, and in political science there appears to be a growing recognition of that. In the recent TRIPS survey of international relations scholars I believe around 65% said that blogging should count for tenure/promotions as academic service.
My own point of view is that the field became so self-infatuated with scientism in the 1980s and 1990s that political scientists lost both the ability (on average) and the will (much more importantly) to contribute to public debates in accessible language. One of the things I’ve admired very much about LGM and The Monkey Cage and other political science blogging, is the way they use political science in a way that is accessible, yet neither patronizes nor panders.
Like Farley, I’m a bit of a pro-blogging absolutist here. Not that it’s narrowly about blogging; much the same argument could apply to anything from Usenet to (God forbid) twitter. Any discipline without objective verification must engage with the widest possible audience, simply to avoid falling into self-referential nonsense. If you can’t convey ideas outside your clique, and convince people of their value, they don’t count for anything.
I’m not rushing to the barricades in defense of polsci-bloggers, though. They don’t need it: the current outcast state of academic blogging will evaporate within a decade. Already students, jobseekers, and many others are being ordered to blog. Blogging isn’t yet given much weight in academic promotion, but it doubtless will be in the near future. The closed world of academic publishing is crumbling. As journal articles become systematically available online, ungated, there should be more substantial interchange between public and narrowly academic writing. All in all, the future’s bright.